When my brother and sisters and I were growing up, we eagerly watched the front porch at Christmas. We got excited about every delivery, but we waited for one package in particular: One from my grandma containing tea ring, the best Christmas breakfast pastry I have ever had the good luck to eat.
She made two tea rings for us every year, without fail, my entire childhood and mailed them to us in Oregon all the way from Illinois. They arrived slightly squished, but that just made the deliciousness more dense. We never complained.
Tea ring is a Christmas breakfast pastry that combines a fluffy dough, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter—lots of butter, of course. It’s a little like a cinnamon roll but won’t give you a sugar headache afterward. Even better, the recipe makes two, so you don’t feel bad going back for seconds—or fourths.
In the Christmas spirit of giving, I’m sharing my family’s most-treasured recipe for tea ring here. It’s legendary around these parts: Family friends continue to talk about tea ring, and friends of mine have dropped by Christmas day to “say hi”—aka angle for a slice of tea ring.
I’m always willing to share. If you have Christmas breakfast pastry this good, it’d be cruel not to.
Our Christmas morning tradition
My grandma is nearly 89 now, and we moved her to an assisted living apartment near us all the way from Alabama this year. Her memory isn’t great—she usually doesn’t remember details of the day before—and she doesn’t do any baking. So I’ve taken over the family tradition of making tea ring for our Christmas breakfast (and a few other times a year, too—though not nearly often enough, my family will say).
It’s a commitment: I usually spend half a day before Christmas or other holidays making the tea ring. Now that Peeper and Kiwi are getting a little older, they are joining this family tradition, too—and I couldn’t be happier.
They absolutely loved helping me make tea ring this year. Kiwi in particular was obsessed with kneading the dough: It was like slime, but better. Both girls helped sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar on the inside of the breakfast pastry. And of course they both helped eat the tea ring, too.
This Christmas, we’re bringing my grandma to my house to celebrate—at least for a short while. She gets overwhelmed and tired when she’s away from her usual Scrabble and Sit-and-Stretch routine, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity for the girls to spend the holiday with their great-grandmother. And you know I’m going to save an extra-big piece of tea ring for my grandma.
Christmas breakfast pastry recipe: Tea Ring
Makes 2 tea rings
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
7 1/2 cups flour
1 generous cup brown sugar, divided
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup butter
- Dissolve yeast and a pinch of sugar in 1/2 cup water. Stir with a spoon to ensure all yeast is dissolved. Let rise 5-10 minutes, until foamy.
- In an extra-large bowl, combine remaining 2 c. water, yeast mixture, sugar and salt. Stir.
- Sift together half of the flour, the baking soda, baking powder, and add gradually to the yeast mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Add the unbeaten egg to the flour-yeast mixture and stir like the devil. (**Note: You can also use the bread hook in your Kitchenaid to mix.**)
- Add the oil, then gradually add the rest of the flour until the dough gains a good consistency: It shouldn’t stick to your hands. Do not add more than the 7 1/2 cups of flour.
- Put a layer of wax paper over the bowl, then a damp kitchen towel, then another layer of wax paper. Secure the “lid” with a rubber band and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours, or refrigerate the dough overnight.
- Sprinkle a bit of flour on a large wooden cutting board or counter. Place the dough on the counter and cut it in half; reserve half for later. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
- Roll out the dough to a large rectangle, about 13x20inches. Spread about 1/4 cup butter over the surface, then sprinkle on half the brown sugar mixture.
- Roll lengthwise, like a jelly roll. On a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, shape the roll into a ring and join the two ends. Using kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, cut slices of the ring almost to the center of the ring every 2 inches. Twist each segment slightly to one side so the swirled inside is showing.
- Let rise 2 hours.
- Line the bottom of your oven with tin foil to catch any drips from the tea ring. Preheat to 375 degrees.
- Bake for 20 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn’t get too brown.
- Brush butter over the top while the tea ring is still warm. Serve warm or cold.
Do you have a family tradition for Christmas breakfast?
Looking for another Christmas tradition to adopt? We paint sugar cookies—a fun (and frosting-free way) to decorate cookies this holiday!